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Article by Robert Smith

British Lamb Prices Driven by Exports
2012-02-03

Lamb prices shoot up after sheep shortage – but there are other factors to consider that may have a detrimental effect on price.

© Robert Smith Photography

ewes and lambs

The price of British lamb has increased by 20 per cent this year and could climb higher, after a shortage of sheep in Britain has caused problems in the meat market. A combination of a weaker pound and a shortage of supply has meant that prices have been driven by the export market.

According to official data from the Meat Trades Journal, the price of minced lamb is now £9.45 a kilo, up 21 per cent on the same week a year ago, when it was £7.83. The increase in lamb chops is not as dramatic, but has still seen a significant jump of 11 per cent, with chops trading for £11.64 a kilo.

Nick Allen, the executive director of the English Beef and Lamb executive, said: "It's supply and demand. We can't just magic up more lambs. There's no denying that lamb is now very expensive for many consumers."

According to statistics from the Department for Food and Rural Affairs there were 21.3 million sheep and lamb in Britain at the end of last year, a fall of 3 per cent on the year before and a substantial decline from the 27.6 million at the start of the decade.

Ed Bedington, the editor of Meat Trades Journal, said: "I can't see how lamb prices won't increase significantly as the year goes on. From the farmers' point of view it's great – for those that remain it is the first time in ages they are finally making profit. But for consumers, it means that lamb is getting very expensive to eat."

With the present optimism there also has to be some pessimism - the supply of lamb on the market at the present time is lower than normal and traders are finding resistance to prices from abroad due to a strengthening pound and the European financial crisis. Exporters are relieved there is not large numbers of lambs coming forward at the present time as demand from abroad could falter if larger numbers were available. Currency and the world economy also plays a major part in determining the skin prices and these could soon fall with a strengthening pound.

The major factor that influences the price of British lamb is sheep numbers and exchange rate – it is unlikely that there will be any increase in demand but if there was to be any significant movement in the supply, or a strengthening pound, this could soon have a detrimental effect on lamb prices.

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